Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: 'The Edict' by Max Ehrlich

4 / 5 Stars
This paperback version of ‘The Edict’ was released in January 1972, and represents a novelization of the screenplay by Max Ehrlich and Frank de Felitta. 

The film derived from ‘The Edict’, ‘Z.P.G.’ (Zero Population Growth), was also released in 1972, and starred Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin; a low-budget production, it got less than stellar reviews.

As I’ve indicated in a previous post, the early 70s were the heyday of the Population Bomb / ZPG craze, and ‘The Edict’ stands as a pretty good cultural artifact from those long-ago days of yore.

The story is set in the early 21st century; the Population Bomb and Eco-Catastrophe have combined to place the planet dire circumstance. 

The output of the plankton farms and the algae fields cannot keep pace with the hungry bellies of the fecund billions, and scientists have had to abandon desperate measures to make minerals and rock dust edible (!). Food riots and cannibalism are rampant in countries outside the former United States.

The World Government institutes a drastic remedy, the Edict of the novel’s title: for a span of thirty years, no woman will be allowed to give birth. Any couple who conceive a child without government approval will be liquidated, along with their offspring, without recourse to appeal. For only by observing ZPG can the earth’s billions be assured of sufficient food to keep them alive.

For Russ Evans and his Certified Partner, Carole, life is considerably easier than for the teeming multitudes in the cities. Russ is a security guard at the State Museum Number 42, devoted to late 20th century America, and he and Carole live on the museum grounds. 

Not only do they have their own home, but they have a garden where they can grow a few vegetables for their own consumption. And Russ and Carole are free to take in the exhibits of quasi-extinct creatures (like dogs and cats), and the quasi-extinct plants (such as flowers), any time they wish.

Russ is good friends with the Museum’s head of security, George Borden. Indeed, as part of WorldGov’s ubiquitous cultural conditioning, Russ routinely ‘wife-swaps’ Carole for George’s partner Edna, as the WorldGov considers sexual promiscuity to be a useful way of keeping people’s minds off the strictures imposed on their reproduction.

To satisfy the Maternal Urge, the WorldGov allows qualified couples to adopt synthetic ‘babies’ designed to cry, wet themselves, and even burp. But Carole is deeply unsatisfied with her selection from BabyMart. Carole doesn’t desire an android infant. She wants a real, live human infant of her own….

‘The Edict’ is one of the better ‘Overpopulation’ novels of the era. Ehrlich avoids adopting the New Wave prose stylings then ruling sf, and instead uses crisp, direct language, and believable dialogue, to keep his narrative continuously engaging. The near-future scenario is ably presented, often with a sardonic note to remind readers of 1972 just how good they had it. 

Ehrlich avoids interjecting false optimism into the novel’s ending, settling instead for an ambiguous finish, one that goes well with the book’s stance as a cautionary note about a potentially disastrous future.

Readers with a fondness for the Overpopulation sub-genre of sf, as well those who appreciate a well-written adventure novel, will like ‘The Edict’.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the pic of the cover. This was the second S.F. book I ever read after "The Overman Culture," back when I was eight. I had forgotten how disturbing the cover was for me.